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This story first appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
For 45 years, Norman Lear has been a provocative force on the cultural and political scene and, at 93, he’s not ready to cede the stage. He’ll be on hand Jan. 21 when the documentary Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You debuts on the fest’s opening night. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who were Oscar nominees for their 2006 doc Jesus Camp, the film traces Lear’s life — from his teen years working at Coney Island to his ground-breaking sitcoms such as All in the Family and Maude to his founding of the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way in 1981. And the film looks at family secrets — like his father’s incarceration for selling fake bonds — that haunted him into adulthood.
“I can’t wait to see it,” says Lear, who has just agreed to produce a Latino reboot of his 1975 series One Day at a Time for Netflix. He admits, though, that it’s hard to imagine a modern-day version of All in the Family‘s Archie Bunker. “I thought of him as lovable; he was not so much a bigot as he was afraid of tomorrow,” he says of the character, “but it would have to take another form now and it might not be acceptable because I don’t find the Tea Party-thinking lovable.”
‘All in the Family’ was huge in the ’70s.
Lear created People for the American Way expressly to do battle with Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority movement, and while he insists his organization is “alive and well and it’s very aware that our future depends on young people,” he admits that so are the forces on the right it’s pitted against. “They’ve become louder and politically more potent,” he says. “Jerry Falwell’s gone, but politically within the Tea Party and to its right, there’s a lot going on. They are a good deal stronger than they were at the top of the ‘80s.”
But, Lear adds, “I have enough confidence in the American people to believe that [Donald] Trump is the middle finger of their right hand. He is [the right’s] f— you to all the clowns and the establishment generally because [they believe] the leadership of the country is at an all-time low. It’s their way of saying, ‘If you give us that kind of leadership, take this.’ But I don’t think it’s going to take him all the way, and I think they’ll retract that finger. They have to.”
As for the Democratic choice between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Lear says, “Nobody’s asked me formally, but I’ll take Hillary. I think she’ll be the candidate. She’s the candidate that’s most electable, and I care for her. Anybody who knows me knows I’m not going to be voting for any of the cons on the other side.”
Premieres on Jan. 21
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